Vanderbilt Law Review

First Page



Tennessee has since 1827 maintained, in some degree, a separate court of equity, presided over by a chancellor. Though most states have abolished the procedural distinction between cases in law and suits in equity, Tennessee still retains this dichotomy in its court system. Prior to 1827 law and equity were dispensed in Tennessee by a single court of general jurisdiction, the Superior Court of Law. This practice grew out of the North Carolina Act of 1782 and the continuation of that Act by the First Territorial Legislature in 1794, both of which gave equity jurisdiction to the Superior Court of Law. All matters of fact in law or in equity in this court were triable by a jury as if at law. This was the practice when the Tennessee Constitution of 1796 was adopted. The Act of 1809 abolished the Superior Court and established the Circuit Court in its stead with all its jurisdiction in law and equity. Such unity was short-lived for the Act of 1819 provided that all chancery cases should be taken on deposition; the Circuit Court sitting in an equity cause was styled the Court of Chancery. Finally the Act of 1827 created two separate chancery courts and appointed a chancellor for each.

Although prior to the Constitution of 1796 the statutory right to jury trial in equity was the same as at law, the courts limited the constitutional right of jury trial to those cases in which it existed as a common-law right in the North Carolina territory.